Tips for Attaching Trees to Your DNA Results

Posted on: January 10th, 2017 by
Comments Disabled

Today AncestryDNA announced that they sold 1.4 million DNA test kits in the fourth quarter of 2016, setting a sales record for the quarter and bringing their DNA database over three million participants.1 Blogger Kerry Scott, whose acuity and sense of humor I love, commented on Facebook, “The Cousinpocalypse is coming. Tree up, everybody.”2

Since I spend considerable amounts of time working with the trees attached to my AncestryDNA matches, I thought I’d share some tree tips for new testers and those who haven’t yet attached trees to their test kits.
Tip 1: Attach a tree, if you can, even if it’s minimal. I understand that many people who test are searching for birth parents and don’t know their biological family. If you’re not one of these folks, attach a tree to your kit. Period. Just do it. No excuses. Go back at least three generations, to ancestors who are not living, so that your matches will see actual names, not Private labels. (The way Ancestry trees work, if you denote that an individual is living, those viewing the tree do not see the person’s name, just the label Private, unless you specifically give permission to view information on living individuals–which you must do on an individual basis. This restriction is a good thing–it respects the privacy of living people, but it’s also why you need to make your tree extensive enough so that your matches will see names they can use to investigate connections with their own tree.)
Tip 2: Be sure you attach your kit to the correct person in the tree. In recent weeks I’ve encountered some problems with this in my matches’ results. For some of my DNA matches, their match list entry shows that they are female, but the attached tree suggests that they’re male. A bigger problem is where the test results are attached to a person other than the tester, thus showing the other person’s ancestors to DNA matches! This seems to occur where one spouse is administering the other spouse’s test kit, and attaches the DNA results to themselves instead of their spouse in the tree (but I’ve seen it in other circumstances). Trust me, your matches will spin their wheels for hours trying to find the connection! Be nice, and be sure you are sending them up the right tree.
Tip 3: Make your tree public. I know that there is a lot of debate about public versus private trees, and lots of perfectly valid reasons to keep a tree private. If you fall on the private side of this debate, do create a skeleton tree for your DNA results, with at least three and preferably four or five generations showing the tester’s direct ancestral line. You don’t have to attach sources to the skeleton tree, but be sure to include dates and places so your matches can tell whether your John Smith is theirs too. If you’re not willing to create a public skeleton tree, commit to religiously and promptly answering queries from DNA matches. Your Ancestry home page has a little envelope icon on the right side of the black bar at the top, next to your name. If you have a number on the envelope, you have a message. Click the envelope to see the message, and be sure to answer it.
Tip 4: Be as specific as you can with dates and places in your tree. Lots of us don’t know birth or death dates to the day, month, or year, but even approximate birth and death dates can help your DNA matches figure out who your ancestors are. Include places with the dates, and be as specific as possible in your place names. This means, include counties for ancestors in the U.S. If you put Joel Gerhard in your tree, and indicate that he was born in Pennsylvania about 1811, good for you! I’ll be even happier if you indicate that your Joel Gerhard lived in Schuylkill County, because that tells me that he could be my Joel Gerhard too.

Thanks for testing, and doing all you can to help your matches figure out your connections! The more you help them, the more they will be able to help you.

  1. “Ancestry Sets AncestryDNA Sales Record Over Holiday Period and Fourth Quarter,” 10 January 2017, Ancestry Corporate, Newsroom, Press Releases ( : accessed 10 January 2017).
  2. Kerry Scott, comment on Angie Bush’s link of the Ancestry press release in “International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG)” group, Facebook ( : accessed 10 January 2017).
Print Friendly

Working with POISON DNA Segments

Posted on: January 8th, 2017 by
Comments Disabled

Earlier this week Blaine Bettinger posted on “The Danger of Distant Matches.”1 In his post Blaine colorfully calls segments smaller than 10 cM2 POISON segments. While I think Blaine is, as usual, right on the money about the risks involved with small segments, I want to share a case where a collection of POISON segments allowed me to solve a puzzle.

A cousin and I were attempting to locate evidence from original sources on the parentage of our ancestor Hannah (Lutz) Frantz (1818-1890) of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania. The Frantz genealogy published by Nancy Joy Hendricks asserts that Hannah was the daughter of Jacob Lutz (1790-1862) of Lewistown, Pennsylvania but provides no source for the relationship.3 Examination of relevant church, census, cemetery, land, newspaper, and probate records failed to substantiate the link, although there was evidence of some connection between Jacob and Hannah. (Land records showed that Jacob of Lewistown sold land to Hannah’s husband,4 and census records showed Hannah and her husband living close to Jacob.5)

Four descendants of Hannah Lutz have tested their autosomal DNA with AncestryDNA: the cousin I was working with (C.S.), her sister (G.S.), another cousin (L.W.), and me. I administer my own kit and L.W.’s kit, while C.S. administers her kit and her sister’s. Searching the Ancestry match lists for all four kits for the surname Lutz turned up three matches with testers whose trees show descent from Jacob Lutz of Lewistown, his children, or his grandchildren.

My kit has a 6.4 cM, 2 segment POISON match with G.M., who is descended from Jacob Lutz’s son Jacob H. Lutz, and an 8.2 cM, 1 segment POISON match with J.S., who is descended from Jacob’s son Solomon H. Lutz. L.W.’s kit has a 9.5 cM, 1 segment POISON match with J.S., and no match with G.M. C.S. and her sister G.S. both have 6.9 cM, 1 segment POISON matches with J.D., a descendant of Jacob’s daughter Salome Lutz, and no matches with G.M. or J.S.6

I reached out to my matches G.M. and J.S. through Ancestry’s messaging system. J.S. did not respond, but G.M. did! G.M.’s research files included a newspaper article providing direct evidence that G.M.’s ancestor Jacob H. Lutz, Hannah (Lutz) Frantz’s sons Jonas and Jacob Aaron, and others were descendants of Jacob of Lewistown.7 With this direct evidence of these family connections, I was able to locate the probate record of a previously unsuspected daughter of Jacob of Lewistown naming Hannah Frantz as her sister.8

Are the DNA matches connected with Jacob Lutz POISON segments? I don’t know. My mother, my three cousins, and all have kits uploaded to GEDmatch where segments could be examined, but the Ancestry DNA matches do not. My match with G.M. did, however, lead to uncovering direct documentary evidence of Hannah Lutz’s relationship to her father Jacob Lutz.

  1. Blaine Bettinger, “The Danger of Distant Matches,” 6 January 2017, The Genetic Genealogist ( : accessed 7 January 2017). This was a follow-up to an earlier post, “Small Matching Segments–Friend or Foe?,” 2 December 2014 ( : accessed 6 January 2017).
  2. cM is an abbreviation for centiMorgan, defined in the International Society of Genetic Genealogy (ISOGG) wiki as “a unit of recombinant frequency which is… often used to imply distance along a chromosome.” “CentiMorgan,” International Society of Genetic Genealogy Wiki ( : accessed 7 January 2017).
  3. Nancy Joy Hendricks, The Frantz Family of Alsace, Lorraine (Vero Beach, Florida: Nancy J. Hendricks, 2006), 227.
  4. Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, Deeds, 33: 441-43, Jacob Lutz to Stephen Frantz, warrantee deed, 25 August 1846; Register of Deeds, Pottsville. Also Schuylkill Co., Pa., Deeds, 39: 564-66, Jacob Lutz to Stephen Frantz, warrantee deed, 1 October 1847.
  5. 1850 U.S. census, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Schuylkill township, p. 310 recto (stamped), dwelling 238, family 251, Jacob Lutz, and p. 310 verso, dwelling 246, family 258, Stephen Frantz and Hannah Frantz; digital images, Ancestry ( : accessed 7 January 2017.)
  6. Ancestry match list results are as of 7 January 2017.
  7. “War Record,” Tamaqua Courier, 30 January 1897, p. 1, col. 3.
  8. Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, Will Book 7: 194-195; digital image, “Pennsylvania Probate Records, 1683-1884,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 7 January 2017).
Print Friendly

What does raisin cake have to do with genealogy?

Posted on: October 29th, 2016 by
Comments Disabled

Tomorrow I will be speaking at Hennepin County Library‘s annual Family History Fair on “Finding Female Ancestors.” During my talk one of the topics will be women’s historical household roles, including cooking, sewing, and needlework, and what recipes and crafts can tell us about family history.

While I was preparing for a previous talk on researching Cornish ancestors–my Trewren and Edmonds ancestors came from Cornwall–I investigated some of the social media forums relevant to Cornish research. One of the Facebook pages I found was Recipes from a Cornish Kitchen.1 The Boiled Raisins Cake post2 caught my eye–my grandmother baked a boiled raisin cake that I loved as a child (and still love). It’s unusual in my baking experience–you boil the raisins, and save the raisin water to dissolve the baking soda that causes the cake to rise. The Facebook recipe, which is from a Women’s Institute book of recipes from Cornwall dating from the 1960s, is very similar to my family recipe!

My mother, who was born in 1925, grew up in the household of her grandmother Mary (Trewren) Weaver. Mary was the daughter of George Trewren, who immigrated from Ludgvan, Cornwall, in the 1860s, and the granddaughter of James Edmonds and Eliza Spargo, who immigrated from Marazion, Cornwall, shortly after their marriage in 1848.3 When asked about the cake, Mom said, “We always had it,” so I know that it was being made in the 1920s. This means that Mom’s grandmother Mary (Trewren) Weaver used the recipe! Since it is so similar to the Cornish recipe I found on Facebook, I’m guessing that it came to my great-grandmother from her mother Mary (Edmonds) Trewren or even from her grandmother Eliza (Spargo) Edmonds. That makes it even more of a treasure than I knew.

If you’d like to try it, here’s our family recipe. The version my mother had was typed by my grandmother.
Boiled Raisin Cake
from Mary (Trewren) Weaver, Tamaqua, Pennsylvania
2 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter and spry [Crisco or other shortening]
2 c. raisins
3 c. sifted flour
1 c. hot raisin water
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. baking soda
Boil the raisins. Drain and save the raisin water.
Cream the butter and sugar. Mix in the flour, the hot raisin water, the spices, and the baking soda.
Bake in a greased 9 by 12 pan for 30 minutes at 375 F. Also makes about 2 1/2 dozen cupcakes. Freezes and keeps well. Can be halved for a smaller cake.

What recipes have been handed down in your family? Have you compiled a family cookbook? If you’d like to think about how you can incorporate food and cooking traditions in your family history, you might enjoy these resources:

  • Alzo, Lisa. Baba’s Kitchen: Slovak & Rusyn Family Recipes and Traditions, 2nd ed. N.p.: Otter Bay Books, 2011. Print and ebook editions available from
  • MacEntee, Thomas. “How to Start a Recipe or Food-Related Genealogy Blog.” GeneaBloggers, 21 July 2009. : 2016.
  • Philibert-Ortega, Gena. From the Family Kitchen: Discover Your Food Heritage and Preserve Favorite Recipes. N.p.: Family Tree Books, 2012.
  • Powell, Kimberly. “Create a Family Cookbook or Recipe Book,” ( : accessed 28 October 2016).
  • For more ideas, google “genealogy” “food” “recipes”.

    1. Recipes from a Cornish Kitchen, page, Facebook ( : accessed 29 October 2016).
    2. Ibid., posting “BOILED RAISINS CAKE …,” 20 September 2016.
    3. I wrote about Mary (Trewren) Weaver, her mother Mary (Edmonds) Trewren, and Eliza in “Three Marys and an Eliza, Investigating the Trewren and Edmonds Families of Cornwall, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut,” Minnesota Genealogist 41:2 (2010), 5-13.
    Print Friendly